My hair is loc’d. Some may call my hair unique and others may say it is rebellious, but from my view it is simply just hair. I cut, color and style my hair similar to many individuals. I struggle to keep my hair curled and my color treatments fade with each wash just like everyone else.
Although hair is just hair, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that employers can determine whether locs are appropriate for their particular work environment. Grooming standards are necessary for many industries, however, many standards fail to consider the varying types of Black hair. In this particular case, locs (more commonly known as “dreadlocks”) were deemed inappropriate for the work environment, even when styled professionally; the court ruled in favor of the employer.
If you are unfamiliar with the details of the case, I will fill you in.
The real issue involves work environments that view culture and race as characteristics that need to fit a particular standard.
Jones applied, interviewed and was offered a job at Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS), a claims processing company located in Mobile, Alabama. Jones wore her short locs during the interview and hiring process. After the position was offered, the human resource manager requested that she cut her hair because it did not comply with the companies grooming standards. CMS’ policy states that “hairstyle[s] should reflect a business/professional image. No excessive hairstyles or unusual colors are acceptable[.]”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a suit against CMS for violating Title VII. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of CMS stating the terms of Title VII applied to “immutable physical characteristics” (or, features you cannot physically change).
The case is much bigger than hair. The real issue involves work environments that view culture and race as characteristics that need to fit a particular standard. This view directly contributes to the issue of diversity that led to the creation of laws that enforced fairness in the work setting. Policies such as CMS’ create situations that fail to acknowledge individuals who do not naturally fit within the realm of what is deemed appropriate.
Some may view hair as a minor issue when considering professionalism. However, for Black people or other minorities with varying hair types, conforming to professional standards is a process that entails chemicals, heat and even a loss of confidence.
Employers who fail to look pass experience, usually do so at the expense of talent and progression.
of my friends and family wondered how I felt after this decision. I was not angry. I grew up around successful professionals with locs who were entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers and government employees. I have also worked for years without anyone questioning my professionalism, hair or appearance. There were times when I did worry about future employment, but I forced myself to focus soley on my skills and talents.
Confidence and skills kept me employed, and my hair and tattoos added to the entire package. When I entered a workplace, my main goal is to become an asset and let my work speak volumes. The outcome is a constant flow of employment.
Employers who fail to look pass experience, usually do so at the expense of talent and progression. More people are embracing their individuality through hairstyles, tattoos and piercings. Progression is a factor that employers will eventually need to consider in order to connect with younger employers that want to break away from antiquated workplace practices.
An employer that refuses to progress and consider an inclusive work environment will see their talent embrace competitors that are working to diversify their businesses and organizations. There are far too many opportunities out in the world to cry over one job that chooses appearance over talent.
One court decision does not stop us all.
It cannot stop us all.